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Brocade Weaves Software-Based Networking Strategy

Mitch Wagner

Brocade sees network virtualization as essential to its transition from a hardware provider serving primarily enterprise customers to a software provider with a telco focus.

Brocade's business was split 50-50 between the enterprise and cloud three years ago. Now, it's moved to 75-25 cloud versus enterprise. And the future lies with telcos, says Kelly Herrell, VP and GM of Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)'s Software Networking Business Unit.

Likewise, the company is moving from being a leading storage networking hardware vendor to a software-based data networking provider. A big driver for that change was Brocade's 2012 acquisition of Vyatta. Herrell had been CEO of Vyatta. (See Brocade Buys Vyatta for Software Routing Smarts and Brocade's Datacenter Push Paying Off.)

NFV is key to Brocade's vision. NFV gives carriers the freedom to provision customer networks inside the telco data center rather than having to install expensive appliances on customer premises, Herrell says.

NFV also helps carriers move to distributed, smaller data centers, rather than bigger, more centralized facilities. Carriers are locating data centers in central offices and everywhere they have real estate, moving to an optimal NFV model of tens of thousands of data centers throughout the carrier's coverage area, Herrell says.

Kelly Herrell

This transition is part of the shift in data center buying power, from the enterprise to application cloud providers such as Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), Rackspace (NYSE: RAX), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) buying on behalf of enterprises, to carriers, Herrell says.

Brocade is trying to win that market by evolving a set of software components as a platform. "It spreads over the racks of servers as a layer of middleware," Herrell says.

Traditionally, network hardware and server hardware were distinct, but virtualization is driving network capabilities into server hardware. Virtual servers replace a physical cable connecting the server and switch with a vSwitch in the hypervisor.

"This started hooking up in 2010. That's when networking started permeating the server," Herrell says. "Once you had more and more virtualized apps in the servers, you needed more and more network logic." In following years, Layer 3-7 functionality such as load balancing and firewall migrated to the server. OpenStack's Neutron provided orchestration, moving from the cloud stack to the network stack. The OpenDaylight OpenFlow-based SDN controller provides management. (See Brocade Bridges SDN & MPLS.)

"We've been working very methodically to create a software networking platform," Herrell says. The platform is based on the Brocade Vyatta Virtual Router software.

The platform is based on three layers: The Services layer is based on the Vyatta Router and vADX load balancer and application delivery controller. The Control layer is where OpenDaylight comes into play. And Orchestration uses the OpenStack cloud stack.

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